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Starbucks is Coming. So? 

Woodland Park coffee sellers gear up for competition

Unless green-aproned latte slaves are trying to bust mochas in your bathroom, the opening of a Starbucks store is an event of such yawn-inducing magnitude that even The Gazette is likely to ignore it.

The Seattle-based poster child for transnational corporate homogenization will plant its flag in Woodland Park next month on the site of a former 7-Eleven store.

So who cares? The owners of the town's three independent coffee sellers -- Java Junction, Woodland Perk, and Java THE Hut -- that's who.

As travelers of Highway 24 West may know, Woodland Park already has a Starbucks in its Safeway supermarket. But alas, this stepchild Starbucks does not offer what the company's spin-doctors devoutly refer to as "the Starbucks experience."

Colorado was introduced to Starbucks in 1993 and its first El Paso County shop debuted on North Tejon Street in 1994. According to Starbucks' Denver-based regional marketing manager Bridget Barrett, the Woodland Park store may be Colorado's 100th store. Barrett couldn't confirm this as store openings are often subject to delays.

None of this is particularly good news to Lorena Townsend who runs Java Junction. Townsend is flummoxed as to why the company has decided to open up in a town of less than 9,000 inhabitants.

"This is a really small town; we have no college, no night life."

Townsend, along with Woodland Perk owner Mike Black, are less concerned about the quality of their beans than their ability to compete for tourist business with a nationally recognized brand.

"It would be better for Lorena and I if they didn't show up; it's also probably inevitable," Black said.

"They'll have some advantage in the summertime. There's a stoplight right in front of where they're at." Black said. "But I think there'll be a strong local backlash against it."

Townsend and Black's fear for survival is confirmed by Bob Phibbs, author of You Can Compete. Based in Long Beach, Calif., Phibbs advises small businesses on how to stay afloat in the face of chain-store encroachment.

Phibbs warns against what he calls "playing the pity card." That is, cultivating a buy local backlash within a community.

"It's like a little kid going door to door selling candy so he can go to camp," Phibbs said. "They (independent coffee shops) have to clean up their act; they have to make sure they're as clean and pretty and nice as the competition. If you have a surly crew and haven't cleaned your windows and still have gingham curtains, it's not going to cut it."

"The danger is that they know what they're going to get when they go to Starbucks. It's not a foregone conclusion that your locals will support you."

Starbucks' Southern Colorado district manager Ed Frelly claims his company does not look to put competing coffee stores out of business. Rather, he says, Starbucks aims to "expose people to coffee" and "create an environment, make it a neighborhood place where people can go and relax."

When asked if Starbucks hones its sights on markets that, like Woodland Park, already have coffeehouses, Starbucks' Bridget Barrett was less than succinct.

"We're always looking for locations where we can bring the Starbucks experience to people who love great coffee." Barrett said. "There's no magic formula to it."

"If you look back to the early '80s when there were 300 coffeehouses (in the U.S.), that served gourmet coffee, Starbucks has created a niche in an area where that hasn't always existed and that benefits the entire industry."

Barrett's denial of a magic marketing formula notwithstanding, Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce president Scott Downs thinks Starbucks' decision to locate there might have to do with its growing numbers.

"The town is experiencing a really comfortable construction boom right now," said Downs, who went on to note that Woodland Park's median income is approaching $60,000 and traffic highway counts are hovering around 40,000 per day. With numbers like that, he adds, "People start looking at you a little differently."

Whether or not Woodland Park's three coffeehouses will sink or swim with the green mermaid remains to be seen.

One thing's for sure; the Starbuckian juggernaut is still in full swing. As Seattle Weekly reported last month, the company that went public in 1992 with 165 stores aims to have 15,000 by the end of 2005 and 25,000 within a decade. Starbucks co-founder Gordon Bowker remarked in the Weekly, "Somewhere there is a saturation point, but I don't think anyone knows where it is yet."

-- John Dicker

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